Choosing cheerleaders: It was about race, but more

“While the integration of white and black athletes in the 1960s and ‘70s took place with relatively few problems, cheerleading squads were more problematic.

Pamela Grundy, a [Charlotte] sports historian, told a crowd at the county library [in Brevard] that ‘Either you can hit the basket or you can’t…. It’s clear who’s good…. Cheerleading was very different from sports.’

“Since blacks were often in the minority, they rarely were selected by the student body to be on the squad. When it came to committees or the cheerleading coaches, they too were mostly white and selected white cheerleaders.

“Grundy said selections were based more on style and culture, not necessarily race.

“A photo of the Myers Park (a top-tier all-white school in Charlotte) cheerleading squad revealed girls with similar hairstyles standing very straight with limbs in the same position….

“Another photo showed cheerleaders from the same year at West Charlotte (the black equivalent of Myers Park). They had different hairstyles and different poses. Grundy said they used their legs and hips more than their arms.

“And [black] cheerleaders involved the crowds, often in a ‘call and response’ format whose precursors were African chants.  ‘Foot stomping was turned into an art,’ said Grundy.

“When black girls were excluded from cheerleading [at predominantly white schools], students protested. In 1969 in Burlington, violence erupted when Walter Williams High selected all-white cheerleaders. One man was shot to death.

“Grundy said that once those who selected the cheerleading squad realized what a huge issue it was and that blacks were being excluded, either intentionally or not, things began to change….”

— From “Historian: Integration Of Cheerleaders Was Difficult To Achieve” by John Lanier in the Transylvania Times (Oct. 8)